Dapping punches and Dies
What are they used for? Dapping punches or, alternately, doming punches are used to shape metal or waxes. They are usually used in conjunction with a dapping block or die.
They can be made from steel, brass or wood.
How it works: (you should be wearing protective goggles here!)
A piece of (annealed) metal, usually disk shaped, is placed into the depression of the block (the die). The punch is placed over the disc and hammered. The disc is hammered into progressively smaller dies until the final shape is achieved.
- Make the disk larger by about 1/3rd then you want the finished dome. Place the annealed disk into the depression that it fits into levelly, and below the edge of the block. See Doming Silver Beads (link above) for more exact measurements.
- Use a large leather or rawhide mallet to hammer your punch with. The mallet won’t mar your tools and will provide enough force to move the metal. The force of the stroke should be somewhere between meek tapping and brutal force.
- When forming: use a punch that is smaller than the die but, larger than the disc. With a too-large punch, you can alter the sides of the disc – which you don’t want to do yet. With a too-small punch, you can bulge out the bottom of the disc. The idea is to evenly stretch out the metal.
- Hammer on-center. Mis-placed punch placement can deform the dome.
- After you’ve reached the shape you want, switch to a punch that is almost the same size as the depression (die). This step will push the sides of the dome outward.
- The last punch, you will use, will be a bit smaller than the prior one. Starting at the bottom move the punch around the metal – in a spiral motion – creating the finished shape.
- I like to pre-drill my center holes. It is much easier to find center on a flat disc. If you use a small enough drill bit, hit the punch in the center of the disc and don’t wail on the hammer, the hole will stay centered and not become larger or distorted. I usually re-drill my center holes to the size of my tubing. See my page: Finding the Center of a Disc or Circle. I discuss three methods for determining the center of a bead.
- Step one: Using the punch, hammer the disc straight down, until it reaches the base of the depression. Use a punch that is a bit larger than your disc. You are only concerned with sinking the center of the disc.
- Step two: Move to the next sized depression but continue to use the same punch, until the center of the disc reaches the bottom.
- Step Three:
To make matching domes, use the same depression and count the number of hammer blows and hit the second dome the same number of times as the first. Finish hammering both domes before moving on to the next smaller depression. You can also measure the domes with calipers to check the height. Don’t forget to also check the area where the two domes will join.
If you are making a bead, you can center drill the disk before doming. Drill with a small sized drill bit (I use a 20g drill bit – #67) as the hole will distort some and you will need to re-drill with the correct size drill bit after doming.
If you are using patterned metal, steel punches will probably mar your pattern. To avoid smashing your pattern it is best to use a wood punch and block (To extend the life of the wood block you should use wood punches) or a brass block. You will have to hammer a bit more but it’s worth a little extra work. A Big Plus: all that hammering slims the arms!
Steel dapping punches can also be used in other metalsmithing techniques like repoussé.
This dapping set from Harbor Freight, costs under $40.00! I own it and a more pricey set and there is a small amount of difference. The pricier set has rounder, smoother ends on the dapping punch and the dapping block is cleaner and the finish is better. BUT, I can’t see a big difference in the finished product. If you are just starting out or are on a budget, the Harbor Freight set might be a good choice.
A partial list of other vendors who carry dapping sets are:
When choosing a dapping set, you might want a flat die block. With the flat blocks, you don’t have to keep flipping the cube around and your next sized impression is very obvious. Durston’s block has 23 impressions. FDJ Tool carries an economy block with 18 depressions. Otto Frei carries Pepe’s block, better quality, 27 depressions.
BJ Oberholzer in South Africa carries a block with 19 holes.
The most depressions that I’ve found so far are on a brass block. This block has 57 depressions. Sold by Amazon and other stores.
To help prevent marring of patterns, you can try a nylon or wood block. Use wooden daps with these blocks to extend their lives. Rio sells a wooden version as does Otto Frei. Many companies sell the wooden blocks. Rio also sells a Delrin block.